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Sam Middleton & Jasmine Stone, Campaigning Stratford Mothers

October 13, 2014
by the gentle author

Jasmine & her daughter Safia

No-one could fail to respect the courage shown recently by the young mothers of Stratford who, after eviction from the E15 Focus hostel, took possession of a pair of vacant council houses on the Carpenter’s Estate next to the former Olympic site. So last week Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I went over to meet two of the protagonists – close friends Sam Middleton & Jasmine Stone – and hear their story in their own words.

Their audacious gesture ignited a flashpoint in current social policy, both in this Olympic borough and nationwide, as councils seek to balance the books by selling off housing stock to those wishing to exploit the commercial potential of these assets upon the open market. The outcome is a shortage of accommodation and, in this equation, developers’ profits come at the human cost of those most in need of a place to live.

“When I heard the Olympics were coming to Stratford, I was happy and I felt optimistic because I thought there would be lots of jobs, and maybe I’d be able to get a job and a house,” Sam Middleton admitted to me, “But when the Olympics came, I was unable to find a job and it was while I was living in the hostel that I found I was pregnant.”

“The athletes’ village was supposed to become social housing, but then they swapped that idea for ‘affordable’ housing, which is 80% of the market rate,” added Jasmine with a wry grin.

The distinguishing quality of this pair is that, although they have found themselves on the rough end of policy, they have stubbornly refused to become of victims of the circumstance. The two young mothers have forged a bond of friendship, acquiring a confident political awareness and articulacy that is startling to encounter.“We met at the hostel and we’ve been best friends ever since. I think we could easily win the three-legged race,” Jasmine assured me.

“19th October last year was the date of my eviction from the E15 hostel and 20th October was the due date for my baby, but he was a week late,” Sam explained, “It was only because we made the front page of the papers that they extended our eviction notices and we got short-term accommodation in Newham.”

“They said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to go to the seaside?’ and they offered me accommodation in Margate, Birmingham or Manchester, but I could never leave London, I want to be near my family” Jasmine told me, “My nan was born here and my mum was born here, and I’ve never lived anyone else but Newham.”

Looking beyond her own situation, Jasmine explained to me that one hundred and eighty vulnerable young people were evicted from the E15 hostel without any support and four who are known to her are now living on the street. Meanwhile, Newham Council has four hundred vacant council homes including three almost unoccupied tower blocks on the Carpenter’s Estate in the centre of Stratford. Many have been boarded up for years with the upper windows open to accelerate decay. She believes that the council were awaiting the opportunity to sell the estate to a developer to build luxury flats while local people are deprived of homes. “It’s the gentrification of London,” she confided to me.

The fortnight’s occupation of two of these houses by a group of the young mothers, which is now over, was a protest against the injustice of this state of affairs that succeeded in winning widespread public support.

As we were talking, Jasmine received a phone call with the unexpected news that the council is now refurbishing forty houses on the Carpenter’s Estate to open up for the use of those in need. It was a cathartic moment for the pair and a validation of their protest which brought this about. “If they’re opening up forty houses, they can open up the rest of them,” she exclaimed in joy, exchanging a triumphant smile with Sam.

“I  didn’t have a political bone in my body, until I was pregnant and I got handed the eviction notice and I woke up to this whole world of corruption.” Sam confessed to me, flushed with delight. “I think it’s changed us for the better because we’ve learnt that you can get your voice heard. You don’t just have to take things, you can stand up for your rights,” Jasmine continued victoriously, “It’s not just us that have nowhere to live, it’s people across the country. We’ve learnt not to give up and I don’t see myself turning back now. We’re going to go on fighting. We don’t want to be the Mayor of Newham, we want to be the Mothers of Newham!”

Sam Middleton - “We just want somewhere safe and secure we can call home”

The recent occupation of the empty houses on the Carpenter’s Estate

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

You can follow the progress of the Focus E15 Mothers on facebook

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Erica W. permalink
    October 13, 2014

    Good for them! Shelter — decent housing — should be a basic human right.

  2. October 13, 2014

    Yes, I never quite understood when it was exactly when society decided that the world can look the other way when regular plain people had to move out on the street to become homeless. How is it that politicians cannot look the other way to fight religious wars halfway around the world when our own people are living homeless under freeway overpasses?

    I still don’t get it… especially considering how much those wars cost and who they’re trying to protect.

    Look the other way… look the other way… look the other way.

  3. October 13, 2014

    Well done for highlighting this important campaign.

  4. October 13, 2014

    Good that these girls had the courage to stick up for themselves. Shame on the councils – and all others – who let property decay while people are homeless. Good luck to all those fighting! Valerie

  5. October 13, 2014

    These women are a tonic to read about on this dull wet Monday morning. All strength to them and I hope they are listened to.
    Judy x

  6. Steve permalink
    October 13, 2014

    An inspiring story and one which continues to highlight the “gentrification of London”. A city that is rapidly becoming unaffordable to all but the wealthy. Areas that were once predominantly working class communities are now populated by faceless professionals and city types who are prepared to pay the ludicrous seven figure fees for small terraced houses. A sad reflection on what London is becoming.

  7. October 13, 2014

    Well done, well done, well done, well done.
    What brilliant people you are.
    Do you need more support?
    Let us know here in comments if yes

    So impressive.
    And council decision makers are too far away from the people they are to supposed to serve. Well done for getting in front of their faces.

  8. October 13, 2014

    Well done!

  9. Sarah C permalink
    October 13, 2014

    Yes good for them.

  10. Peter Holford permalink
    October 14, 2014

    Well done for giving this some more publicity. There is precious little opposition to heartless policies which are seriously damaging peoples’ lives. Shame on a heartless government that would have old-fashioned one nation Tories turning in their graves and shame on Newham Council for meekly accepting the profit motive over people.

  11. Wondercat permalink
    October 14, 2014

    These young women are an aspect of “Spitalfields Life” that warrants recording. I agree that they have a right to decent living space. I applaud their determination in taking over decent living space that stands vacant in the neighbourhood in which they were reared. But I wonder at the assumption that they have a right to live where they were reared. They want to live where they were bred. Where they were bred, however, exists no longer. London has changed beneath them.

    Take as an axiom, yes, that humans have a right to shelter — and that the rich must pay to let the poor be housed warm and dry and safe. But must the rich pay to let the poor be housed in a sort of Museum of London 1960, “as it was and where it was”, re-creating conditions when these women’s grandparents came into the world? That is an odd romanticisation of those conditions, it seems to me. It is as if one approved of establishing in an enclave of subsidy a sort of human zoo with, over this particular enclosure, a placard reading “The Lower Classes”.

    “With the money that we have,” says the council, “we can pay for ten families to be housed in Margate or three families to be housed in London.” Margate it is, then. And the ratepayers should applaud.

  12. Shaun Peters permalink
    October 14, 2014

    Thank you for this inspiring piece and these inspiring people.

  13. October 15, 2014

    To Margate and UKIP, wondercat? Push people around, push them out and in this case push to the end of the line where jobs and opportunities are scarce and the locals tired of their town being used as an overspill of London’s “problems”. Applaud away all you like but you miss the point. People with means have the choice to live where they were “bred” but you argue that this is a romantic notion where the poor are concerned. I see your logic but it is this sort of thinking that in the end creates extreme political views.

  14. Dave Green permalink
    October 19, 2014

    Yes, it’s amazing the lengths that greedy ‘investors’ will go to. A healthy society needs a mix of people living together in one area, rich and not so rich close together rather than shipped out to fill vacant sites. The rise of the white middle class ghetto is very disturbing and only helps to divide people against others.

  15. teapot permalink
    October 24, 2014

    wondercat: if making a ‘museum of London 1960′ means returning to a time when we wanted to make this country – and this city – a better place for every citizen to live in, not just the rich, then I’m all for it. It’s a whole lot better than returning to the pre-1930s, with most of the East End owned by rack-rent landlords, no rights for tenants, and a majority of the population unable to even think of affording their own home. Three cheers for the Stratford mums.

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